Across Europe, attacks on public service broadcasting eroding democracy

Across Europe, attacks on public service broadcasting eroding democracy
  • As thousands of workers at France Télévisions and other public broadcasters are set to strike on 28 June, UNI Global Union is calling for sustainable financing to save public service broadcasting in France and beyond
  • Public service broadcasting is vital for a free and independent media, cultural diversity and community representation
  • Workers at public broadcaster VRT in Belgium went on strike last month, while unions in the UK also fighting cuts and privatization. Meanwhile, public broadcasters in Hungary and Poland have lost most of their editorial freedom.

Tomorrow on 28 June, on the same day as the first session of the newly elected French National Assembly,  workers at France Télévisions and other public broadcasters will strike to defend the economic and political independence of public service broadcasting and its role in French life, culture and democracy. The strike is one of several examples of unions defending public broadcasting against deep cuts in recent months.

The walk-out follows President Macron’s proposal to abolish the 139 euro per year audiovisual licence fee for public service broadcasting leaving a 3.7-billion-euro hole in funding. Unions, including UNI Global Union affiliates CGT, CFDT and FO, will march to the French parliament to demand sustainable funding for public service broadcasting that includes France Télévisions, Radio France, France Médias Monde, INA and ARTE.

William Maunier, General Secretary of French union, SNRT-CGT Audiovisuel, and President of the European sector of UNI Media, Entertainment & Arts (MEI), said:

“Public sector broadcasting employs not only tens of thousands of people in the audiovisual sector in France but also commissions a large majority of films and programming made by independent producers. But this is not just a question of jobs or funding, it is about maintaining the independence of French media, it’s about the plurality of programming and it’s about our cultural diversity. Public broadcasting serves all parts of society and that is what we are fighting for.”

What’s happening in France is part of a wider trend of governments trying to defund or dismantle public broadcasting in Europe.

For example, at the end of May, three Belgian unions joined forces to strike against proposals by the Flemish government to again cut funds to the successful and popular public broadcasting service VRT. Also, in the UK, unions are uniting to oppose plans to privatize Channel 4 – and the government has also expressed its desire to change the licence fee model – but has so far failed to come up with an alternative.

Head of Bectu, Philippa Childs, said:

“Freezing and later abolishing the BBC licence fee will necessitate huge cuts – hitting jobs, regional economies and ultimately the content that British people know and love. Privatizing Channel 4 will deal a heavy blow to the UK’s thriving independent production sector and to the boundary-pushing, thought provoking content British audiences enjoy.

 “These attacks are an act of cultural vandalism and Bectu will not let these assaults on public assets, as well as the innovative creative content they generate and the tens of thousands of jobs they create, pass unchallenged.”

Public broadcasting is particularly at risk from attack by right-wing governments, as seen in Hungary and Poland – where public broadcasters have lost most of their editorial freedom. After years of enduring budget cuts under a right-wing populist government, unions in Slovenia are fighting to maintain independent, quality journalism at national broadcaster RTV.

Johannes Studinger, Head of UNI Media, Entertainment & Arts, said:

“In several countries there is pressure to downsize public broadcasting, which is perceived as a thorn in the side to government policies. Then we see the danger of financing being used to discipline or limit the role of public service broadcasters.

“Undermining public broadcasting shrinks the civic space for everyone. The licence fee gives public broadcasters the liberty needed to fulfil their mission to support communities and cultural diversity as well as provide quality, trustworthy, unbiased reporting – especially important in a time of rising nationalism and fake news.”

UNI Global Union and it’s 500,000 members in the media, entertainment and arts sector around the world have lent their solidarity to the strikers in France. See the statement

UNI Global Union represents 20 million workers in the services sector worldwide, including over 140 unions and 500,000 workers in the media, entertainment and arts sector.

Follow the strike action on #TouchePasAuxMediasPublics. Sign the petition: https://www.petitionenligne.net/defendrecap

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